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I am writing a scientific paper and would like to ask if this sentence:

These changes in complexity heavily worsened the results of many algorithms which were used up to now, because the color distribution now significantly changes in dependency of the camera's direction (plus lighting) and the orientation of the ball itself.

is correct?

Additionally I am not sure whether it should be which or that:

(...) the results of many algorithms which were used up to now (...)

(...) the results of many algorithms that were used up to now (...)

  • If you like, you can avoid the issue entirely: "...the results of many algorithms used up until now..." works just as well. – Damien H Mar 23 '16 at 6:43
  • .. or even "... the results of many existing algorithms". – JavaLatte Mar 23 '16 at 7:09
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    ... and you could replace "heavily worsened" with the widely-used idiom "badly affected" or the slightly more formal "adversely affected". – JavaLatte Mar 23 '16 at 7:19
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Straight from the OxfordDictionaries:

....In these sentences, that and which are introducing what’s known as a restrictive relative clause. This is a clause containing essential information about the noun that comes before it. If you leave out this type of clause, the meaning of the sentence is affected – indeed, it will probably not make much sense at all. Restrictive relative clauses can be introduced by that, which, whose, who, or whom.

The other type of relative clause is known as a non-restrictive relative clause. This kind of clause contains extra information that could be left out of the sentence without affecting the meaning or structure. Non-restrictive clauses can be introduced by which, whose, who, or whom, but you should never use that to introduce them. For example:

A list of contents would have made it easier to steer through the book, which also lacks a map.

She held out her hand, which Rob shook.

Note that a non-restrictive clause is preceded by a comma (so as to set off the extra information), whereas no comma should precede a restrictive clause (indicating that the information is essential, not extra):

I bought a new dress, which I will be wearing to Jo's party. [non-restrictive]

I was wearing the dress that I bought to wear to Jo's party. [restrictive]

So, here, in your sentence, you don't need a restrictive clause (i.e. that) because without that 'extra' information the sentence looks fine.

These changes in complexity heavily worsened the results of many algorithms, which were...

Note that you need a comma there. OxfordDictionaries mentions that.

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    If you remove the clause, it changes the meaning from the specific algorithms that had been used to practically any algorithm, which may or may not have been used. Contrast your answer with "the results of the algorithms", or "the results of algorithms". In most cases, if you change "many" to another modifier, it becomes clearer that the clause is restrictive. – paste Mar 23 '16 at 7:01
  • Agreed that it does not serve the purpose of the sentence but I think when you leave out 'restrictive clause', the structure of the sentence should look weird irrespective of its purpose to mean something. @paste Another reference says - if you remove a nonrestrictive clause from a sentence, the subject of the sentence remains unaffected – Maulik V Mar 23 '16 at 7:06
  • Regarding your first point, that is not the case. It simply changes the meaning, as stated in your quote from OD. As to your second point, the change to the subject is subtle, but it is there. It changes the specificity. If left out, the sentence speaks of algorithms which may be from anywhere. But, no; it is only referring to the algorithms that had been used prior. Using "which" causes the sentence to say "oh, and we happened to use the algorithms", which sounds bizarre. – paste Mar 23 '16 at 7:19
  • Consider this example: Pizza that has olives is gross. Pizza is gross. Removing the restrictive clause leaves a valid, normal-sounding sentence. The only change is the meaning; it becomes less specific. – paste Mar 23 '16 at 7:32
  • That's what I'm saying! It makes a 'valid/complete' sentence though the meaning is changed. So, do you think 'Pizza that has olives is gross' should be considered as a restrictive clause? What about - 'Pizza, which has olives, is gross'? @paste – Maulik V Mar 23 '16 at 7:44
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According to The Chicago Manual of Style Online, "Use 'which' plus commas to set off nonrestrictive (unnecessary) clauses; use 'that' to introduce a restrictive (necessary) clause."

What that means in your specific case is that you should use "that", since you can't remove that clause from your sentence without changing the accuracy:

These changes in complexity heavily worsened the results of many algorithms that were used up to now, because the color distribution now significantly changes in dependency of the camera's direction (plus lighting) and the orientation of the ball itself.

If you were to remove that clause, it would read as though it worsened the results of many algorithms, which is slightly misleading since you are only speaking about a specific set of algorithms (the ones that were used up to now).

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There are two kinds of relative clauses:identifying (restrictive or defining) and non-identifying (non-restrictive or non-defining ). Your relative clause is identifying. It means it tells us which kind of thing is meant.You can use both which and that in identifying clauses, you can leave out object pronouns as it was suggested in comments.Identifying relative clauses are not separated by commas in writing.

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